Thankful Weekend

As I sit down to write on this chilly Sunday evening, I feel like I’m living out a Hallmark movie. Really, the only missing element is finding the love of my life in my new hometown. Who knows? Maybe that is in next week’s script.

My Thanksgiving weekend started with serving the community meal at the local cafe. The owners generously donate the meal every year as kind of a gift to the town. And it’s not just for those in need. People from all walks of life attend, and reservations are required because it fills up. There’s an option to donate to the town’s food bank at the event, and many came prepared with checks and cash to drop in the box.

I had met one of the owners a month or so ago, and she invited me to attend either by volunteering or just coming to dine. Of course, the volunteering option was more attractive to me. Not only would I have an opportunity to meet community members, but I’d still get to eat afterward.

I was assigned to the soup and dessert crew. We quickly bonded and took our roles of ladling, plate prepping, and serving. Once all of the soup was delivered, we headed to the dessert station. This was even more fun because the pie case was located in the center of the cafe where I could chat with people seated at the counter. And who isn’t happy when they’re eating pie? I also provided some entertainment as I got accustomed to the professional whip cream dispenser. Let’s say it was a little more powerful than the grocery store cans. Fortunately, I had my commemorative apron to save my outfit from certain disaster.

After three seatings of more than 200 people, we volunteers went to the kitchen to serve our own plates. I quickly understood why this was a “reservations only” event. It was probably the best turkey dinner I had ever eaten, and I would really like to get my hands on their sweet potato recipe!

Less than three hours later, I joined my neighbors to further stuff myself. It was a quiet gathering, just four of us, which was perfect after the busy day. My dear neighbor thoughtfully made a gluten-free pumpkin pie for me. Delightful!

On Friday and Saturday, I worked in my friend’s shop. Most of Friday was spent preparing for Shop Small Saturday. We worked like elves, stocking the shelves and packing up bulk candy. Shop Small was sponsored by the chamber, which had created a Bingo card to get people around to the different stores. We offered chili, chips, and cookies to the customers along with wine and coffee. As people entered the store, we had them draw a ticket for an additional discount.  A local author came and planted herself on the sofa to sell her cozy mystery books, including her latest which was Christmas-themed and set in a fictionalized version of our town. It all certainly made for a festive atmosphere.

After my shift on Saturday, I headed to the main street in town to take in the decorations and lights. It was fun to recollect the big decorating party from a week earlier and see my contributions. The town is rather enchanting, all lit up like that. I thought about the fudge that I had sampled in the kitchen store last Saturday and decided that I needed to reward myself. Needless to say, I don’t think I ever need to make my own fudge again. Theirs is absolutely perfect! This could become a bad habit.

The Christmas magic continued after church this morning. I went down to the hall for coffee and donuts and saw a woman at a table with boxes of ornaments. I introduced myself and asked about her plan. Her mission was to get everyone in the hall to put at least one ornament on the tree. It was brilliant. My friend and I jumped in to help by bringing ornaments around to the tables. It was such a simple but effective way to get people involved and build community.

On my way home, I stopped to grab a salad at a restaurant and took a moment to check out the Christmas trees for sale outside. There must have been at least a dozen varieties, some I had never even seen in my native Washington. A man started telling me the story of the older gentleman who is the longtime owner the nursery. He was so enthusiastic that I was sure he was in charge of the tree sales. A few minutes later, when I went inside to buy my salad, he came in to pay for his tree.  He was just a happy customer, not the tree salesman.

My last stop before heading home was the grocery store. After grabbing some veggies, I ran into an acquaintance. We chatted right between the produce department and the bakery for more than half an hour. By the time we parted, I felt like we had advanced from acquaintances to friends.

I can’t wait to see where the small-town Christmas magic takes me in the month ahead. Already, I’ve been invited to more parties and events than ever before. And I have to decide just which one of those trees to bring home for my first Montana Christmas.

Getting in the Spirit

One of the things that drew me to my new hometown was that they celebrate Christmas in a big way. Yes, I am one of those people who absolutely loves Christmas, and I have been anticipating “Elf Day” since I signed the papers on my house back in June.

What exactly is “Elf Day?” Everyone in town is invited to just show up at 8:00 to do their part to transform our town into a Christmas village. There are no age restrictions, no need to sign up ahead of time; you just make your way to the local inn where everyone gathers for instructions, followed by a group photo.

After the photo, I turned to the couple standing beside me and asked, “So where do I go?”

They replied, “Is this your first time? Come with us. We are putting bows on the trees along the bay.” We proceeded to introduce ourselves and chatted as we walked up to the trees.

We had all just been instructed on proper bow hanging, so I felt up to the task. There were maybe fifty trees wired up to the railing along the bay. Our instructions were to put five bows on each tree. In theory, it was an easy task, but it became a bit challenging as our fingers began to freeze. Our work ended quickly, though, as several other elves wandered our way to help.

All of this isn’t just Christmas magic, though. Clearly, there is a sizeable crew of people who work behind the scenes to put this in motion. Last weekend, a friend and I joined the group that was checking bins and making sure light strings were functioning. We then properly gathered up each string to make short work for the elves. Another group was busily tying bows, oodles of red bows!

Earlier in the week, fresh evergreen trees had been wired up all over town. This is where the bows came in. And evergreen garlands were set out in front of the shops this morning. I’m sure there are other details involved that I’ll learn about with time. Clearly, this is a well-orchestrated event.

After heading back to the fire pit to warm up from hanging bows—it was in the twenties— I asked one of the head elves where to go next. She sent me to a building that was missing its bin of lights. They had gathered up some spares and needed help getting the garlands strung. Two fellow elves started at one end while the building owner and I took the other. We got acquainted and began talking about my recent relocation to Montana. His smiling response was, “Good move.” I agreed.

After figuring out our plan for the lighted garlands, a couple of men with ladders appeared to help hang them. They were a jovial pair, obviously enjoying the privilege of being ladder guys.

All throughout town, everyone was pitching in to help where they were needed. It was really quite a production requiring a couple of lifts, numerous ladders, and I’d guess over a hundred elves. There were people with tools and extra hooks, and there was even a volunteer in a golf cart offering hot cocoa and coffee. It was heartwarming to see the community spirit in action.

By the time we had finished our task, I had befriended one of my fellow elves. She and I made our way back to the inn where yet another group of volunteers was serving chili. While I was busy buying a t-shirt, my new friend started chatting with an acquaintance of mine, and another friendship began to blossom. A bit of Christmas magic was touching our little town. And I have no doubt that this was a good move.

 

New Territory: Networking

Up until a few months ago, I had dedicated my entire adult life to educating our nation’s youth. To some that makes me a superhero. Think about it. I spent sixteen years teaching middle-schoolers, another decade teaching high school, and some stretches as a substitute, too. If you’ve parented teens, you can empathize. I won’t lie; it’s not an easy job, but it can also be highly rewarding. Unfortunately, my batteries had worn down, and I was absolutely drained when I left last June. I was more than ready for a change and unsure of what exactly was next for me. My comfort zone abruptly disappeared when I decided to branch out as an entrepreneur.

There are actually some super-cool things about being self-employed, like choosing your own hours and turning the kitchen island into your office. The best thing might be spontaneous dance breaks, though. As I write this post, I’m listening to my local radio station which is playing some Halloween themed favorites like the “Monster Mash” and “Werewolves of London.” Moments ago, when the “Time Warp” happily erupted from the speaker, I leaped to the floor to dance.

This Halloween morning also marked new territory for me: networking. Last week, I spotted a Meetup post for the Inspired Working Women Coffee Connect. I definitely had to get in on that. “Inspired” is certainly an appropriate adjective for this group of women. Not only were they inspiring, but also friendly, welcoming, supportive, encouraging, and enthusiastic. I met women of all ages from a wide variety of career fields. It was a female entrepreneur extravaganza! Suddenly, I felt much less alone. In fact, I feel their invisible support as I write this evening. I can’t wait to get better acquainted with some of these wonderful women.

New Friend Becomes Old Friend

Old friends are the best. You may not see them often, but you know they are there, and that they love you no matter what. It can be weeks or months between conversations (even years sometimes), but at any time you can just pick right back up where you left off. And in a pinch, you know that you could call on them, and they would come to your aid.

But new friends are wonderful, too. It’s exciting to find a connection and forge a fresh relationship. When I relocated to Montana just over three months ago, a friend of a friend introduced me to the man who became my new best friend here. (If you follow my posts, I’ve mentioned him several times.) From our first phone conversation, I knew he and I would get along well, and the friendship quickly grew. We shared common interests like our love of live music, outdoor recreation, and a social drink or two. We have kids the same ages, and bonded with our divorce and dating stories.

We have been hanging out so much that many people, in fact, thought we were dating. But we were just “best-friending.” When I showed up solo one of our favorite hangouts, a server asked where my husband was. We thought this was so funny that he started referring to me a his “fake wife.”

Earlier this month, when he got temporarily laid off, we joyfully took advantage of my flexible work schedule and got in as much hiking as we could. It was the perfect time of year. Autumn in the Flathead Valley is truly something to behold.

Sadly for me, he took a transfer to a new city, which meant his departure today. Last night we got together for one last beer and dinner to wrap up our short but sweet relationship. I kept it together as we shared that last hug to say goodbye, but the tears freely flowed as soon as I started my car to head home.

I will be forever grateful to him for introducing me to Montana and being my unexpected biggest supporter in this lifestyle transition. I’m going to miss him, but I will continue to grow and branch out in my new life here. And he’s now on that special list of old friends.

And Then the Sun Came Out

A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog post but decided to delete it. You see, one of my goals in blogging is to keep a positive mindset. I had gone through a couple of rough days where doubts were filling my head. A series of negative events, which were mostly beyond my control, had brought me down. I then began to question my choice to make an out-of-state move and start a new career as an entrepreneur.

We’ve all been there. You know how it feels when you are at rock-bottom. You know it will end, but the pain and the fear are so very real at the time. Usually, it just takes someone or something to pull you out of it.

I can’t tell you exactly what it was. Maybe it was my super-positive new friend with whom I spent some time yesterday morning. Maybe it was the book I read last night that got me thinking about my hopes for the future. Maybe it was my new neighbor waving her hands to get my attention this afternoon, just because she wanted to say hello as I was walking by. Maybe it was all of those things that made me realize life is pretty darn good right now.

Change can be scary, but it can also be so very wonderful. After chatting with my neighbor, I continued walking with a grateful heart, taking in the mountain views that attracted me to Montana. My tension eased as I realized I was back to being myself; the late summer afternoon sun had never felt better.

Little Joys

I find it interesting that many people I know still find occasion to complain when their lives are pretty great. Yes, of course, I am at times guilty of it too, but I do make a conscious effort to focus on the positive and appreciate each day. Sure, we all need to vent at times, but for many, complaining becomes a habit and they neglect to see life’s beauty.

One thing I try to do every day is to focus on life’s little joys. This helps me avoid that complaining mindset.  You know what I’m talking about; they are those little things that make you smile. I’ve written about some of mine in previous posts: my resident deer herd, seeing mountains on a daily basis, and the stunning beauty of Flathead Lake. Some days, I get especially lucky and have one of those magic moments where I see or experience something extra special.

On Monday, I went on a bike ride with a friend. As we were riding down a country road, I spotted not just a pony, but a baby pony (foal?), as we were riding by. Fortunately for me, we would be backtracking on the same road to return to my place. I think my friend thought I was a little goofy, but he agreed to stop and take a look.

We stopped just in time to see the baby and his mother running across the field to greet their owner. Yes, it was another Montana Magic moment. The owner yelled at us from across the field, inviting us over for a closer look. She then told the story of buying the pony without knowing that she was pregnant at the time. My friend and I got acquainted with the owner, both ponies, a horse, and the dog, too. After a pleasant visit and some commemorative photos, we said our goodbyes and rode back home.

So keep your eyes open. You never know what little joys, or maybe extra special surprises, may come your way today!pony better pic

 

 

 

Inspiration on the Water

Sadly, my kayaking plans for this evening were canceled due to potentially stormy weather on Flathead Lake. It’s a bit of a letdown because I was very much looking forward to my first group paddle under the full moon.

However, I now get to tell about my experience on the lake last Friday. So let’s back up a week.

A new acquaintance had asked me to kayak for an open swim race. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but of course, I said yes. It would be an opportunity to meet some new people and get out on the lake for the first time. And who wouldn’t want to be out on the water on a hot and sunny July afternoon?  I was a bit nervous though, about both finding the location and my potentially precariously-loaded kayak. Was it tied down well enough to stay put at highway speeds?

Just when I was sure I had passed the park without seeing it, (Yikes—No data!) I rounded a corner, and there it was.  The kayak was still attached, and I had arrived on time. Relief.

After we kayakers received our instructions, I volunteered to be the sweeper. That meant I would follow the swimmer in last place to ensure his/her safety. Honestly, I took the sweeper position because I had no idea how fast the swimmers would be. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to keep up with those in the lead.

It took me a few minutes to realize why my swimmer was in last place. She was paraplegic. Think about it. She was swimming an entire mile in unpredictable open water, solely with her arms!  A determined optimist, she occasionally paused, checking in with me and smiling every time.  I did what I could to encourage her and guide her without overdoing it. At times, it seemed like she wasn’t making progress due to the winds and the currents, but that apparently didn’t matter to her.  I soon concluded that she would finish at her own pace. Giving up was not an option.

Grateful and inspired are not strong enough words to describe how I felt about this experience. My swimmer thanked me at the end of the race and said she couldn’t have done it without me.  I can’t adequately convey the gift she gave to me.  My maiden kayak voyage on Flathead Lake was certainly memorable. Lucky me.